Law Enforcement

  • ForensicsIowa State to be home to a new, $20 million national center for forensic science

    NIST has awarded a five-year, up to $20 million grant to establish a Forensic Science Center of Excellence to be based at Iowa State University. The new center will be the third NIST Center of Excellence and the only one focused on forensic sciences. Its primary goal will be to build a statistically sound and scientifically solid foundation under two branches of forensics, pattern evidence (including fingerprints and bullet marks) and digital evidence (including data from cell phones and computers).

  • EncryptionTech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.

  • SurveillanceHouse-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • Law enforcementObama halts transfers of military equipment to local police departments

    Since Congress launched the 1033 Program in 1997 to make military equipment that the Pentagon no longer wants available to state and local police. About $4.3 billion worth of equipment has been distributed. Between FY2009 and FY 2014, five federal agencies spent $18 billion on programs which provided funds and resources aiming to provide military equipment and tactical resources to state and local law enforcement agencies. The White House announced yesterday that it will ban federal transfers of armored vehicles, bayonets, grenade launchers, ammunition of .50-caliber or higher, and some types of camouflage uniforms to local police departments.

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  • BioterrorismFormer agent sues FBI for retaliating against him for criticizing anthrax letters investigation

    Richard L. Lambert, a former senior FBI agent who, for four years, ran the investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks, has sued the FBI, accusing the agency of trying “to railroad the prosecution of [Bruce E.] Ivins” – the main suspect in the attacks — and, after Ivins’s 2008 suicide, of creating “an elaborate perception management campaign” to bolster its claim that Ivins was guilty. Lambert’s lawsuit also charges that the FBI and the Justice Department forced the Energy Department’s lab in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to dismiss him from his job as senior counterintelligence officer there in retaliation for his critique of the FBI’s conclusions in the anthrax case.

  • ImmigrationDHS implements new deportation scheme to replace Secure Communities

    After months of working to improve Secure Communities, the Obama administration recently announced the Priority Enforcement Program, under which jails will be asked to notify ICE agents when a deportable immigrant will be released — so agents can be waiting — instead of holding him or her in jail until ICE agents arrive. This new approach is a response to criticism of Secure Communities from local law enforcement units that said the program strained local budgets as jails became overbooked with nonviolent criminals.

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  • CounterfeitInvisible inks to help foil counterfeiters

    Counterfeiting is very big business worldwide, with $650 billion per year lost globally, according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Scientists have invented sophisticated fluorescent inks that one day could be used as multicolored barcodes for consumers to authenticate products that are often counterfeited. Snap a photo with your smartphone, and it will tell you if the item is real and worth your money.

  • SurveillanceThe FBI violated its own rules in surveillance of anti-Keystone XL pipeline activists

    More than eighty pages of internal FBI documents dated from November 2012 to June 2014, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that the FBI breached its own investigation rules when it spied on protesters opposing the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Agents in the FBI’s Houston field office failed to get approval before they cultivated informants and opened files on pipeline protesters — a violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming excessively involved in sensitive political issues.

  • Mexico violenceU.S. funding has supported Mexican government bodies accused of murders, crimes, abuses

    Over the past year, Mexican authorities have been implicated in cases involving the deaths of hundreds of civilians whose bodies were later found in mass graves. Most of these authorities work for local law enforcement and federal security agencies, which might have received funding from U.S. government programs created to combat Mexico’s illegal drug trade. In 2013, 98.3 percent of crimes in Mexico went unpunished, according to Mexican government statistics. Of the hundreds of mass graves discovered in Mexico in recent years, federal prosecutors have reported opening just fifteen investigations between 2011 and April 2015.

  • ImmigrationDHS deportations undermine efforts to get immigrants to provide leads on radical suspects

    DHS counterterrorism teams rely on cooperation from immigrant communities to obtain leads on radical individuals and pending terrorism plots, but many of these communities are becoming more wary of federal law enforcement as the number of deportations increase. “It’s ironic that you’ve got them coming in and trying to get information from our communities even as they’re detaining and deporting us at an alarming rate,” says one immigration activist. “That trust is just not going to be there. You can’t have it both ways.”

  • Law enforcementOhio to develop state-wide standards for police use of deadly force

    Ohio governor John Kasich has created a 12-member group of community and law enforcement leaders to help draft statewide standards on how police departments should use deadly force. The move comes in the wake of a series of police shootings involving black males.Most police departments in Ohio already have their own policies for deadly force, and some claim a statewide standard might not be an effective solution. Kasich said he would use his powers to pressure police departments in the state to follow the standards recommended by the group.

  • Emergency communicationWashington State county considering levy to fund new emergency-radio network

    Voters in King County, Washington, which includes Seattle, will be asked in a special 28 April election to approve a levy for a new emergency-radio network to expand coverage throughout the county and replace outdated equipment used by police, fire, medical, and other emergency personnel. The levywould raise $246 million over nine years and cost $0.07 per $1,000 of assessed property valuation beginning in 2016. The levy proposed would increase the number of transmission towers from twenty-six to forty-six and replace 19,000 radios and 117 dispatch consoles.

  • Domestic terrorismFusion centers, created to fight domestic terrorism, suffering from mission creep: Critics

    Years before the 9/11 attacks, law enforcement agencies throughout the country, alarmed by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, began to monitor and investigate signs of domestic terrorism. That increased monitoring, and the need for coordination among various law enforcement agencies, gave rise to the fusion centers. A new report, which is supported by current and former law enforcement and government officials, concludes that post-9/11, fusion centers and the FBI teams which work with them shifted their focus from domestic terrorism to global terrorism and other crimes, including drug trafficking.Experts say that at a time when the number of domestic terrorism threats, many of which are linked to right-wing extremist groups, is surging, law enforcement must refocus their attention on the threats from within.

  • CubaU.S. expects improving relations with Cuba to facilitate return of fugitives

    A 2013 State Department report discredited earlier U.S. claims that Cuba armed separatists in Colombia and Spain, but reaffirmed the country’s role in providing refuge to criminals who have fled U.S. courts (and jails).”We see the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of an embassy in Havana as the means by which we’ll be able, more effectively, to press the Cuban government on law enforcement issues such as fugitives. And Cuba has agreed to enter into a law enforcement dialogue with the United States that will work to resolve these cases,” a State Department spokesman said.

  • Drug warsMexican drug war may have increased homicide rates

    The Mexican government has been fighting an internal war against drug traffickers. A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch estimates 60,000 people were killed between 2006 and 2012 as a result of the military interventions and drug cartels fighting each other for control of territory. A new statistical analysis suggests that, in the short term, the Mexican government’s war against drugs increased the average murder rate in regions subjected to military-style interventions.